I first met Claire Lynch when she was the lead vocalist for the Front Porch String Band, when I recorded the band on location for an undergraduate project. This would have been around 1981. (Unfortunately, the tapes were lost long ago.) Jump ahead 35 years, Claire has her own band and has won the IBMA’s Best Female Vocalist Award… twice… so it goes without saying that she’s a pretty amazing singer and songwriter. (Don’t take my word for it… listen to one of her songs.) And she’s coming to Barking Legs in Chattanooga, 8pm this Friday night. Claire’s website is here.
Barking legs is a SUPER venue for this concert. If you’ve never been there, it’s a small performance space. The most it’ll hold is maybe 150-175 people, and the furthest seat back is 4 rows away. The only way you’ll get a better seat is to have her play at your house.
I normally try to do a location recording when she comes to town, but won’t get the chance this time… I’m in the middle of a 3-day shoot for TLC. I should be able to just make the concert, though.
She doesn’t play here very often, so if you’re into progressive bluegrass at all, don’t miss this chance to hear her play– show starts at 8pm. Tickets are $21 in advance, available on the Barking Legs website (shortcut)
As I’ve said before, Harrison’s Mixbus is my DAW of choice. Sure, I’ve used ProTools like everybody else. And it works fine, but I don’t exactly love it for a number of reasons. I discovered Mixbus at a Nashville AES event, and was an immediate fan & early adopter. It’s been through a number of versions, the most recent being Mixbus 3.4. I used it to mix a recent live music project. Here’s the workflow:
Since I don’t have a studio anymore, I rarely use Mixbus for tracking. Instead I like to use a dedicated recorder. First choice would be an Otari MX80 or MTR90 2″ 24-track, but I haven’t had access to one of those in a long time… and at about 350 pounds, it isn’t exactly practical for location work. So instead, I used my Sound Devices 664. It can record up to 12 channels, but I did this recording before I got my new CL-12 controller, so six channels is easier… six faders and six XLR inputs. As this was a three-person band, six tracks would work. Track assignments on most tracks were three vocals, bass, kick, and accordion. There were other instruments as well– most notably percussion consisting of a washboard played with toilet brushes and a tambourine that was played by Rachel’s left foot while her right foot played the kick– but these were picked up with the main vocal mic, the Watts Polyribbon , as well as the instrument mics. The other two mics were headworn earwires via a Lectrosonics wireless. Most of my instrument mics were handbuilt large-diaphragm condensers, except for the mandolin and guitar, when I brought out my Oktavia 012.
“Spinsters” location recording session in a burned-out house, summer 2016 in Chattanooga, TN
The final output will be a music video, but it was to be shot in one continuous take. So everything needed to be captured live… no overdubs or punch-ins, just individual track sweetening and mixing. We recorded in a burned-out house, which gave an interesting room sound. It was kind of reflective, but not in the usual sense. No soft surfaces anywhere, since most of them burned, but there were lots of irregular surfaces to break up standing waves. A fairly short reverb time, not a huge space, but nice high ceilings. Hard to describe, other than to say it was an interesting, nice space.
Once the capture was complete, I brought it home to mix. My preference is to do all the editing in the box, then use a multi channel interface to output the individual tracks to my rebuilt Soundcraft 800. But again the practicalities of space and weight rear their heads… the mixer is up in Nashville and all my other gear is in storage, so for simplicity’s sake I’ll mix this on my desktop. My audio computer consists of a Mac Mini with a 3TB thunderbolt external drive for the audio. I have a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface that I use as a monitor controller and a dongle for my UA plugins (you have to have some kind of Universal Audio hardware connected in order to get the plugins to work.) UA plugins are somewhat expensive, but they work well and are far cheaper than their hardware equivalents… I like them a lot. My main reverb is the EMT140 plate, though I’ve got the Lexicon 224 plugin on my watchlist… I’m waiting for a good sale!
The mixbus screenshot for “mule.” This one was a pretty simple mix since there are only four tracks… two vocals, guitar and bass.
The reason I’m such a Mixbus fan is that it looks and feels like an analog mixer. Each input channel has a full EQ section and an onboard compressor, just as Harrison’s analog mixers had. I can import individual WAV files from the 664 and it opens up an 8 channel mix surface in Mixbus. (Update: Just this morning I purchased Harrison’s new Mixbus 32C, which is their newest version of Mixbus. It functions in a similar manner to the standard Mixbus, but features an exact emulation of the Harrison X32 console, with expanded EQ, filtering, and compression options. Watch for a review once I’ve had a chance to thouroughly test it out.)
“Mule” was a pretty simple song to mix, as there were only two vocal mics (my handbuilt LDCs), a guitar mic (Oktavia 012), and an upright bass (Watts Polyribbon), The first two tracks in the screenshot are muted– these are the field mixes from the 664, not used in the final mix. Rachel Vox is a harmony track, Amelia sings lead on this song. I added a little brightness to her vocal and guitar using Harrison’s EQ, then smoothed out the levels a bit with some compression. The only plugin I used was the EMT140 plate, which I tried not to overdo… remember, this is for video, and it might look weird to have lots of post effects in the mix. But this is a slow ballad, so I felt it needed little more ‘verb than the other songs.
Izotope RX5 Advanced screenshot. While some of these tools are available as plugins, I bought the standalone version, which has more capabilities. I’m hooked on the de-noise and de-plosive modules, which fixed problems that were unfixable in the past.
This song has some quiet passages, and noise from outside the house was more noticeable. Windows were broken in the fire, the house is on a fairly busy street, and nearby AC units all added together to give us more background noise than I’d have liked. RX5 Advanced is the answer to this problem, so I exported the mix as a FLAC and opened this in RX5.
I bought this program for noise reduction and sweetening of voice narration, but it works great in this application as well. I used the spectral de-noise module to learn a short sample of the ambient noise at the end of the track, and applied this profile to the entire song. It worked like a charm. Every time I use this program, I’m amazed at the results. It has lots of other functions and capabilities, but I left most of this alone, as I didn’t want to overprocess the song. I exported this as a WAV file.
To finalize the track, I opened it in Adobe Soundbooth CS5. Adobe abandoned this program when they went to CS6, but I’ve always found it great to use, especially for cleanup, editing, etc. I trimmed the head and the tail, added fade in and fade out, and saved as an MP3 (which Izotope can’t do). Job done… here’s the audio track:
I’ll post the video as soon as it becomes available.
I’ve recently installed a new, very powerful noise reduction software package, RX5 Advanced. It’s a 2-track spectral repair and mastering program that has some abilities that are pretty amazing. It’s not exactly a miracle worker… it can’t take poorly-recorded audio and magically make it good. But it can improve a lot of problem files, some of them dramatically.
Since I’ve just started using it, there are a lot of features that I’ve only started to explore. But what I’ve seen so far is is really fun. The display is a spectrograph, where frequency is displayed on the Y axis (up and down), time on the X axis (left to right), and intensity as brightness… louder sounds are brighter. A standard waveform is overlaid in blue, and there’s a slide that lets you adjust the display for pure spectrogram, pure waveform, or anything in between. The end result is a lot of information about your file that you can quickly and easily understand. For example, see the horizontal bands in the lower right corner? That’s a train horn in the distance. The darker bands before and after the loudest parts of the file are where I’ve applied the denoise module… this file was recorded outdoors, and there was interstate noise in the distance that sounds a lot like white noise. The program was able to learn the background noise and reduce it significantly, while not affecting the direct voice signal much at all… extremely useful.
The program has tons of other features that I haven’t had a chance to try yet but promise to be useful. For example, there’s an ambience match that can add “room tone” to a voice track that was recorded on location. I can think of a half dozen times when the de-reverb module would have come in handy.
“Adaptive Phase Rotation” module
One of my favorite modules so far is the Adaptive Phase Rotation feature. This fixes a typically pesky problem of asymmetric waveforms, where there is more amplitude on one side of the infinity line at the center of the screen than the other. Sonically it isn’t a problem and sounds fine, but it robs you of headroom… when you normalize, one side of the waveform limits the amplitude, and your signal is overall slightly lower. (Besides, it bugs me to have a lopsided waveform. I like my waveforms neat and tidy.) With this module, one click corrects the problem without affecting the sound of your signal.
Right now I’m running it on my little 2.6gHz Mac Mini with 8gb of memory. It does OK on the internal drive, but some of the processes take a few minutes on long files (like declicking a 2-sided album). I’ve ordered a 3TB 7200rpm Thunderbolt hard drive that will be dedicated to audio only, and I’ll probably up the memory to 16gb (max for the Mac Mini) first chance I get.
There is so much more that this program can do, it would take weeks to go over it all. And I’m just getting started. But it’s a GREAT tool to have in my audio arsenal, and I’m looking forward to offering it to clients (and generating some additional revenue with it.)
I’ve just completed testing of the Polyribbon that Les sent me, and it’s ready to go. This is easily the finest sounding ribbon microphone that I’ve ever heard. The older RCA77 series suffered from a lack of high end, but this design corrects that deficiency with a response well past 18k. Low output voltage was also a problem, requiring lots of preamp gain (and increasing the preamp self-noise.) This mic comes in at a little hotter than an SM57.
The pattern selector switch is what makes this mic truly unique. This mic can be set to fig 8 like a traditional ribbon, supercardioid, or omni. In figure 8, the side rejection nulls are extremely deep… the mic only hears reflections from the room walls. Try vocals in supercardioid, the side rejection is good, though not as deep as fig 8. A small back lobe lets in some room reflections for a very natural sound. The omni setting has some high-frequency attenuation in the back side of the mic due to the shadow effect of the headbasket.
Proximity effect can be considerable with ribbon mics, and it varies with the pattern on this mic. A two position low cut inductor is provided to help with the equalization. At the max cut position (full clockwise), the filter is calibrated for a flat response at 300mm. The supercardioid setting exhibits moderate proximity effect, there’s a less aggressive filter setting for this. Omni exhibits no proximity effect.
I haven’t gotten this in front of some talent yet… I can’t wait to get to Nashville. Upright bass through this thing should be a signal to die for, as well as vocals. Sax would probably be pretty nuts as well.
The first production Watts Polyribbon in its case.
My friend Les Watts isn’t just an exemplary mic designer. Here’s a video of his latest patent award, the Hear Doggy! It’s a chew toy like most, except it has an ultrasonic squeaker inside. the dogs hear it, but we can’t. Shadow loves it!
Me with Reggie Young, one of the original Nashville Cats.
Reggie Young is a Nashville session guitar playerwho has played on a LOT of hit records. He was one of the “Memphis Boys” and is on about 120 hit records, including several by Elvis, Johnny Cash, The Highwaymen, an was even on a Beatles single. I interviewed him for the upcoming American Masters special on The Highwaymen for PBS/Jim Brown Productions.
I’ve been working with Les Watts for some years now on a new microphone design. Les calls it the Polyribbon. It’s the first multi-pattern ribbon mic built since (I believe) the old RCA 77DX ribbon mic, last built in 1967. The problem with the 77, though, is pretty dismal high frequency response, which drops of around 8k.
The Polyribbon is flat to over 16k. And the output is higher, about the same as a SM57. So far, there’s only one retail-ready version of this mic built, serial number 81501. And it just arrived at my house.
This one is still undergoing some functional tests, but I couldn’t wait to show it off, so here a re a few pictures. I’m going to rep these mics for Les, so contact me for an audition if you’re in the Atlanta-Nashville-Knoxville area. Retail price for these will be $3,895. This mic is 100% handmade in the USA and uses no Chinese motors or subassemblies. (The case for this first mic was made overseas, but we’re trying to source some nice handmade wooden boxes as well.)
The inside of this mic is complex to say the least, and is full of resonators, wave plates, labyrinths, etc. The basic design is a dual ribbon, with one having a horn-loaded back through an acoustic labyrinth chamber. (more about this later.) Les includes a cutaway illustration in the manual, and it goes without saying that you don’t want to open this thing up and poke around inside. Everything is sealed… even the shafts of the low-cut filter and pattern selector switches are sealed with O-rings.
Some sample audio files will be coming up shortly, as well as response curves, etc. It’s an incredible instrument, with a sonic character that’s Frank-Sinatra-smooth… something that you can only get with a ribbon mic. (And Les’ custom-designed, hand-wound transformer doesn’t hurt, either. Watch this space for more information!
I was lucky enough to be called on a Nashville shoot recently. All I had was an address, didn’t know who or where. It turned out that we were shooting at Cash Cabin studios… as in JOHNNY Cash… shooting IBMA and Grammy winner Shawn Camp with country music legend Loretta Lynn. We recorded not just interviews, but several duets with Loretta and Shawn, and I had the best seat in the house. At 82 years old, her voice is still as strong as ever.
Loretta Lynn with Shawn Camp
Cash Cabin studio is just rotten with country music history as well. It was originally built in the seventies as a getaway for Johnny Cash. As his health began to decline in the nineties it was converted into a studio to avoid trips into Nashville studios. There are artifacts galore all over the place… like a letter to his 10-year-old son John Carter Cash showing the chords for I Walk The Line, photos, classic amps, mics… about the only thing missing was a nice big old analog console. Like most folks, they do everything on ProTools now, as it’s still a working studio.
While it’s generally frowned upon, I couldn’t resist a few quick photos. Enjoy!
Thanks to my friends at Trew Audio, I’ve recently made some significant upgrades to the wireless department. I’ve sold my old Lectrosonics 211’s and replaced them with a new SRb dual digital receiver. This one has the optional battery back, making it possible to use this as a wireless camera hop. A single-unit hop is much preferred by camera operators over a dual unit, since there’s one less receiver to mount on the camera and one less battery to worry about.
I’ve also upgraded two of my transmitters to SMQV types, with selectable output power levels. (And since I hold an FCC operator’s license, I can legally use the 200mW power setting if necessary.) One of the neat features of these transmitters is the remote control iPhone app. I can change channels, levels, sleep and wake the transmitters by playing a tone on my iPhone rather than digging into the talent’s pockets all the time.
While I dearly love the sound of my Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic, I’ve been wanting to add a hypercardioid to my kit for some time now. These are often used indoors, where a wider pickup pattern can be useful. In the film world, the mic of choice has always been the Schoeps, which is a VERY fine piece of German engineering. I’ve been able to use these on occasion, but two of the four times I’ve used them, there has been problems with electrical noise from the capsule. This could have been a humidity issue, or perhaps age issues. But this experience, combined with a rather significant price tag, has pushed me to look for other alternatives.
The Oktavia MK-012 “movie set”
I’d been saving up for a Sennheiser MKH50 when I began to hear some good things from other mixers about the Oktavia MK-012hypercardioid. These are available in what Oktavia calls a “movie set,” containing an MK012 preamp, a hypercardioid capsule, and a low-cut filter. I found a US supplier on eBay and placed an order, and I’ve had it for a few weeks now.
While the mic comes in a nice wooden box, it’s necessary to unscrew the filter and the head for storage.
I just wrapped a short film where we used this mic on all the interior shots, and I’m happy to report that the mic worked beautifully. No perceptible self-noise, good off-axis rejection, and a really nice overall tone. I doubt that this mic sounds as good as a Schoeps, but since I don’t own one, I can’t make any side-by-side comparisons. I did have a Neumann KM184 that I would use in similar situations, and I believe I prefer the Oktavia. The KM184 gave me a bit too much room ambiance, though being a cardioid mic, this is expected and perhaps a little unfair. The cost of a Schoeps is a big issue, roughly five times what Oktavia goes for.
There are other capsules available in this series… most interesting is the dual fig-8 capsule, which could be used with a shotgun mic to make a nice mid-side combo. The other capsules and pads aren’t much use for location sound, with perhaps the exception of the swivel mount.
If you’re into location sound, you might consider giving this mic a test drive. While it’s NOT the same as a Schoeps, it just might fill in the gaps while you save up your nickels for the big purchase.
So I’m shooting this week on location in Destin, FL. It is nice to be at the beach, even though it’s miserably hot to be carrying around a 40-lb bag and a boompole while everyone around you is on vacation.
Shooting on location in Florida for a TLC show… John Rotan on camera, Matt Martin on sound, and Jesse Beam bringing water before everyone passes out.
And of course, today I get THE call… someone wants me for three days to work on a feature film, their main sound mixer is unavailable. I’ve been trying to break into film work for awhile now, since the physical requirements of reality TV production is starting to show… there’s only so many hours I can haul a bag around, booming at the same time. So it REALLY hurt to have to tell them no, sorry, I’m unavailable. Fortunately, it turns out that the best high-grav beer selection in Destin is at a store just across the street from out hotel, (bonus since I don’t have a car) so I went straight across and grabbed a few to help drown my sorrows at passing up a gig that might’ve made me famous.
A selection of “mixer’s oil,” some high-gravity beer from the place across the street
I’d been looking to try some better earbuds for awhile now… a few years back I was working on a job with another mixer (Steve Grider) who was monitoring through earbuds, and I’d never considered that as an option. His were some relatively expensive Sennheisers… I can’t recall the exact model number, but I remember they have a street price of $300. While I’m sure they sound quite nice, I wasn’t sure that mixing through earbuds would be right for me… and I wasn’t ready to drop $300 on an experiment that might not work. And I rather dislike all of the other earbuds that I’d tried, though none had cost more than $20.
Then I found that Galaxy Audio had a pair of earbuds that were within my “experimental” price range. Their EB6 model retails for about $80… not nearly as expensive as the Sennheisers, but expensive enough that one should expect a reasonable increase on performance over a standard pair of iPod earbuds, which most folks are familiar with.
Actually, stock iPod buds aren’t all THAT bad, but you’d be crazy to mix through them. Their response changes dramatically depending on how they’re inserted in your ear, and they have a tendency to shift of fall out of my ears altogether. There’s plenty of room for improvement.
The EB6 come in a nice case with three different size silicone liners, which fit the drivers to most ears In use, the leads go around the backside of your ears, which prevents them from being jerked out of your ears as you move around. They’re marked R and L, which means a better fit and consistent stereo imaging.
How do they sound? Honestly I’m not the best judge. Earbuds are tough to audition. I haven’t tried many other earbuds, certainly no expensive ones, and I’m kinda weird about sharing earbuds or even buying used ones. Regardless, I really like these buds. I use them mainly for listening to music, and these are far better than the standard iPod buds. Bass is full and solid, but (importantly) NOT overemphasized. Mids have a nice presence, and the highs are clean and clear. If we do an admittedly unfair comparison with my most accurate reference… my AKG K271 headphones… I feel like there is more of an “airy” quality to the highs in the K271s, while the EB6 have more of a “direct” quality to them. This seems to me to be more a basic difference between earbuds vs headphones, rather than any sort of shortcoming in one over the other. While I love the way my K271s sound, they become rather distracting to use after about 30 minutes or so because of the way they press on your ears… it starts to hurt a little. The EB6 don’t have that issue, and I will often fall asleep listening to music on my earbuds… I can’t do that very comfortably with headphones.
Isolation is far better with the EB6s, since they are sealed-type buds. They’re also a lot cooler in the summertime, though I do like my 7506 cans in the winter for keeping my ears warm.
Conclusion… all things considered, these were a great buy and seem to give me a good return on investment. My experiment is still ongoing… I’d still like to try some more expensive buds. But these are nice to use in the meantime.
Here’s a short bit from Freefly about shooting with their Movi M10 stabilizer. Shooting the taxicab on roller skates is a particularly cool move, even though it’s a bit testosterone-ninja-cowboy gimmicky. I mean, what could go wrong? (Maybe the roller skate wipeout with 25K+ of camera gear didn’t make the edit.) Still, the end shot does look nice, and as long as this kind of move fits the storyline and isn’t overdone, then put it in your bag of tricks. But don’t forget that the Movi M10 has a base cost of around eight grand, though there may be less expensive options now… camera support is seeing some great advances these days, and some amazing gear is showing up at all sorts of price points.
Much of the audio engineering work that I did at On Line Audio recording studio wasn’t much to write home about. I often think of it as “my studio,” but it really wasn’t mine. Robert Graves was the owner and I was the studio manager, and the way things evolved was that Robert did most of the nighttime sessions, while I ran the audio for the 6 and 11 news at WCBD, and I ran the daytime sessions. Even after I resigned at the station, that’s mostly the way we continued to do things.
Many of the really serious clients preferred to work at night. I mixed everything else. Some of my sessions included folks with amazing talent, but others, well… not so much. This story is from the amazing column.
Once we got a call from a client who was really pressed for time, and only had one day before he had to fly back to California. I think it was a Saturday, and Robert was unable to do the session. I remember him telling me that this Steve Bailey guy (I’d never heard of him) was a phenomenal bassist, and you should have a really good session. So I was assigned to engineer for him.
I met Steve early one morning, and I was immediately impressed. Very personable and down-to-earth, yet clearly the best bassist I’d ever met. He had some reels of 2″ tape with him that contained backing tracks recorded at a studio in California. There was something wrong with his bass tracks, though I can’t remember what it was… either there was something technically wrong, or he was rushed during the session and didn’t like the performance. We were going to re-cut all of the bass parts.
But Steve was having some sort of dispute with the record label over this, and they didn’t want him to re-record the parts. THAT’S why he was recording at a (comparatively) small, out-of-the-way studio in Charleston, SC. If the label got wind of what he was doing, they’d have a fit. So the deal was there were to be NO extra copies of the music made- no cassettes, rough mixes, etc.
Steve set up his pedal board in the control room and we started to work. I believe we set up an amp out in the studio, and also cut a direct box track, but can’t remember exactly. He and I sat in the control room, I ran the recorder while he played. I do remember exactly the length of the session, though… sixteen hours, longest session I’d ever done before or since. The whole time, Steve played like a machine, never slowing down or tiring. I remember feeling exhausted, but the music was so good that I didn’t notice the time as much as I would’ve otherwise.
Then just like that, it was over. Steve made his flight and we never saw him again. The album was never released… I guess the dispute was never resolved… and I spent years kicking myself for doing the right thing, and not keeping some kind of copy of the songs.
Remember that this all happened around 1992- before the internet. So a few years ago I started doing some web- related research. I spoke with Robert Graves, and I found Steve Bailey’s website and tried sending an email, but never heard anything. Then this came in my inbox:
Brian, sorry for the delay here.. the album you mention is out of print, although it may be re released at some point soon. It is called Dichotomy and you may be able to find it online.. you can certainly use some stuf from it. there were two releases in asia and europe.. the asian release has much more recording details… good luck, steve
Copies of the album are occasionally available on eBay at very high prices… for example this one at $125
But if you’re patient, you can find one for $45… still really expensive, but I bought one because of the history. It took forever to arrive (it came in from Japan), but it’s every bit as good as I remember. One of the tracks even has the great Dizzy Gillespie playing on it. Be sure to check out Steve Bailey’s website, stevebaileybass.com.
So what does this record sound like? Have a listen:
The tracking and mix on this project is great. Good jazz drums have always impressed me, and the panning and tone here is especially nice… clear and well defined, not “overdone,” and very well played by Joel Taylor. The liner notes don’t say who the mix engineer was, but it was mixed at Slam Shack and Room 335. Guitarist Larry Carlton owned Room 335 in Hollywood, CA, and while he’s not listed in the engineering credits, he probably had a hand in it.
Here’s another snippet from a song called Surf’s Up… reminds me of Weather Report:
I couldn’t close this post without this song called Dizzy’s Tizzy. On trumpet is Dizzie Gillespie (yes, THAT Dizzie Gillespie). Even though I only played a very small role in producing this track, its pretty cool to say that I worked on a song with Dizzie Gillespie on it. If you’re really into jazz bass, check Steve’s website or keep an eye on eBay for this CD. Like I said, it’s crazy expensive, but it’s really good music… enjoy!